The dishonest election

This election is supposed to be replacing a crooked parliament with a more honest politics. In reality, the three main parties (and that includes Saints Nick and Vince and their LibDem disciples) have conspired to create the most dishonest election yet.

We have massive deficits (£160bn/year) and rapidly escalating debts (£890bn, rising to £1,400bn in 2014) that will force us to default or inflate very soon, if we don't dramatically reduce our spending. And yet all three main parties aim only to reduce the deficit by around £40bn by 2014 (leaving our debt and interest payments still increasing at a rapid rate), and despite these very modest targets, have only specified how they would achieve around one-quarter of that reduction. Everyone knows that they are lying to us, and everyone wants more honesty, and yet the debate is still being conducted as though the only choice is to vote for one of these liars.

You may think that we are exaggerating for effect, but here is what some serious political commentators have to say on the issue:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (as reported by Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott in The Guardian):

"Repairing the public finances will be the defining domestic policy task of the next government. For the voters to be able to make an informed choice in this election, the parties need to explain clearly how they would go about achieving it. Unfortunately they have not. The opposition parties have not set out their fiscal targets clearly, and all three are particularly vague on their plans for public spending."

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Guardian, "I'm glad to miss this orgy of electoral dishonesty":

"there are hard choices ahead, from the economy to Afghanistan, and while 'hopeless but not serious' may capture the public mood, it's a form of denial. No wonder the coming orgy of dishonesty and evasion from all our would-be rulers inspires such revulsion."

Timothy Garton-Ash, The Guardian, "The choice this election is three brands of implausible":

"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most implausible of them all? It's a close run thing. None of the parties are levelling with us about the flesh-eating politics of austerity that we'll face for the next few years."

John Lanchester, The Guardian, "Please, no more guff about change and fairness. what about the fiscal crisis":

"The cuts are going to happen... Since this issue is going to be at the heart of our politics, it should be at the heart of the election debate. What have we had instead? Guff about fairness and change and the Big Society, accompanied by wishful thinking on the subject of 'efficiency savings', as if the biggest fiscal crisis in a generation could be solved by remembering to turn the bathroom lights out and cutting down on Post-It notes.

We, the electorate, must have detail on this subject. At the moment our putative leaders are treating us like children... None of the parties is anywhere near the necessary volume of bad news or level of detail about what's going to be cut... The huge risk here is simple: it is that the winner of the election will have no real mandate to govern... In a democracy, people tend to get the kind of government they deserve. The political parties are, at the moment, treating us as if we can't take the truth."

Telegraph Leader, "Voters want the truth - especially on the economy":

"no party felt that it could trust the electorate with detailed and concrete plans of how to diminish the colossal budget deficit, for fear of frightening the voters... a combination of profligacy and demography will see the National Debt rise to between 300 and 500 per cent of GDP by 2040, unless extraordinarily drastic measures are taken. But rather than addressing this terrifying prospect, our leaders are in denial."

Liam Halligan, The Telegraph, "Televised debate made history, but what about the herd of elephants in the room?":

"all the leaders - even the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg – continued to promote woefully inadequate and dishonest fiscal policies... The important point is that all parties - even the 'honest' Lib Dems - are at least £30bn short when it comes to explaining how they'll 'halve the deficit' – even if Labour's growth numbers come true."

Benedict Brogan, The Telegraph, "We are cheating the voters if we don't talk about DEBT!":

"What we will not hear much about though, to judge by the way this campaign has gone so far, is debt, the black hole that deepens with every deficit... The consequence has been a campaign that quibbles over £6bn here or £12bn there or whether a £150/year tax cut can be funded easily, and whether this kind of chicken feed can be found easily. DEBT! I just have to mention it again. £920 billion and counting..."

Nicholas Timmins, Chris Giles and Alex Barker, Financial Times, "Demolition job that awaits the next government":

"Yet none of the parties has been prepared to spell out where the cuts will fall. None has put forward specific proposals for how they will cut any more than £10bn from spending – and many of those proposals include efficiency savings which may, or may not, prove worthy of that description."

Richard Littlejohn, The Mail, "Trust me, Dave, and you could be on to a winner":

"The Tories parade their good intentions, but are inhibited by timidity, terrified of being labelled the 'nasty' party. As a consequence, the pre-election debate is dishonest and cowardly."

David Cameron in October 2009!

"Mr Cameron told the BBC it would be 'dishonest and irresponsible' not to spell out their plans if they were to win public support for their programme and deal with the 'huge' deficit." (Pity they changed their minds.)

Vince Cable in April 2010!

JS: Sorry to interrupt, but the poster says, ‘you would pay,’ not that you might pay. The Tories have said they will not raise it. They’ve got no plans to.

VC: Well it’s a reasonable prediction based on their past form, that when they’re forced to – when they are –

JS: But you pass it off as fact.

VC: We passed it off as a reasonable prediction of the way they would behave  -

JS: No, you don’t say – the poster doesn’t say this is a reasonable prediction, this says ‘you would pay.’ I mean I just come back to you want to –

VC: Well I’m trying to put this in fairly simple language... If we published the poster with footnotes and notes to editors of what this figure actually  means, it would be counted as rather ridiculous, wouldn’t it? We’re trying to get across a basic simple message that the Conservatives have made very large commitments in respect of tax cutting and in respect of spending, which they’re not willing to explain how they’ll do it. That, in our view, is fundamentally dishonest politics.

George Osborne in June 2009:

"That does not mean the Conservative Party can escape our own challenge. We, like Labour politicians, have fought shy of using the “c” word - cuts. We've all been tip-toeing around one of those discredited Gordon Brown dividing lines for too long. The real dividing line is not “cut versus investment”, but honesty versus dishonesty. We should have the confidence to tell the public the truth that Britain faces a debt crisis; that existing plans show that real spending will have to be cut, whoever is elected; and that the bills of rising unemployment and the huge interest costs of a soaring national debt mean that many government departments will face budget cuts. These are statements of fact and to deny them invites ridicule." (Again, what a pity they forgot their own advice.)

The European Commission in March 2010 (the linked report points out that the Conservatives had also yet to give details of their plans to cut the deficit):

"A credible timeframe for restoring public finances to a sustainable position requires additional fiscal tightening measures beyond those currently planned."